When you’re in the middle of a bomb cyclone, making small talk about the weather becomes entirely acceptable. In Washington D.C. last week, that surely came as a relief to the literally hundreds of nervous graduate students and ECRs ("early career researchers", an industry pseudonym for un- or under-employed recent PhD graduates) who were wandering through the cavernous lobby of the Marriott Hotel.
Along with about 1500 others, we were attending the 132nd annual meeting of the American Historical Association. As always, at the AHA, it’s the younger people and ECRs who are really on edge. They’re waiting for their job interviews, which are conducted en masse at the conference "job center" and sometimes even, horrifyingly, perched on a bed in a hotel room; working up the courage to pitch their research project to one of the many academic publishing houses in the Exhibit Hall; or waiting for a coffee meeting with that all-influential professor.
To be fair, while the younger academics had our own reasons to be anxious, the whole contingent of historians was a little jittery, and not just because it was 20 degrees below zero outside. The combined slow-burn of the neoliberal take-over of universities, and the furious fire of the monster in the Oval Office just a few miles away (or was he off playing golf?) meant that the historical profession’s existential crisis was on full display at the AHA.